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In August 2015, the spotlight had not yet discovered 17-year-old American Taylor Fritz.
He was No. 685 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and had lost in the first round of US Open qualifying to No. 123 Luca Vanni 6-3, 6-3. Fritz won only three points against the Italian’s first serve, four against his second serve, and was not able to generate a single break point.
And then everything changed. The American won 11 straight matches and strung together four impressive results in four months:
Oct. 2015: Won $100K Challenger, Sacramento, California
Oct. 2015: Won $50K Challenger, Fairfield, California
Nov. 2015: Finalist $50K Challenger, Champaign, Illinois
Jan. 2016: Won $75K Challenger, Onkaparinga, Australia
Fritz’s ranking jumped from No. 685 to No. 155 during that run, and the spotlight is now well and truly shining in his direction as he finished the season ranked No. 76, slightly down from a career high of No. 53 in August.
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the Californian’s meteoric rise highlights the strengths that got him this far this quickly, and also what improvements Fritz needs to make in 2017 to keep feeding the steep growth curve.
For 2016, Fritz finished 52nd in the Serve Leaders category of the ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS, powered by the Infosys Information Platform, including 30th in first-serve points won, 73.2%, and 17th in average aces per match, 8.4. His first serve is a bomb.
Focus On Returning
This is where Fritz will find his growth in 2017, as most maturing players do. In the 2016 season, Fritz fared 66th best in the Return Leaders category of the ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS. He didn't break the Top 50 in any of the four return statistics that comprise the Return Leaders category.
The below chart shows six point scores and the percentage chance of breaking at each scoreline for Fritz and fellow #NextGen players Kyle Edmund, World No. 45, and Alexander Zverev, No. 24 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
2016 Season: Percentage Chance Of Breaking Serve By Point ScorePoint Score (When Returning) Taylor Fritz Kyle Edmund Alexander Zverev 15/0 12% 15% 15% 0/15 32% 31% 41% 15/15 24% 24% 28% 30/30 26% 32% 33% 30/40 47% 50% 63% 40/30 11% 13% 12%
Break Points Saved
Fritz was 21st on the ATP World Tour in 2016 in break points saved at 64 per cent. Behind his first serve, that percentage elevated to an extremely high 77 per cent (125/163), which is even higher than World No. 1 Andy Murray and World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who were both at 74 per cent.
But behind second serves, both Murray (56 per cent) and Djokovic (57 per cent) were well above Fritz’s 47 per cent, identifying another snapshot of current vulnerability.
Fritz turned 19 just over a month ago (Oct. 28), and is still very much putting the pieces of the puzzle together in his developmental pathway. Look out world when this rough draft starts looking like a masterpiece.
The Scot, who had won his second Wimbledon title in July, was certainly playing like a top contender in New York. Before his quarter-final against Kei Nishikori, Murray had gone 26-1 since his first match at The Queen's Club in London, where he'd won a record fifth title.
Some doubted his main competition as well. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had endured an up-and-down July and August. The Serbian had lost in the third round at Wimbledon and in the first round at the Olympics, but he had won the Rogers Cup, his record 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
Nishikori, however, likely didn't care who was the top player. The 26 year old, who reached the 2014 US Open final, knew he could beat anyone at anytime in New York, and that was all that mattered when he and Murray stepped onto Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Murray, the second seed, played like the favourite in the first set, winning more than half of his return points. But Nishikori changed his tactics in the second set, mixing in drop shots and more slice against the World No. 2.
Murray grabbed a back-and-forth third set – five service breaks – and was one set away from the semi-finals. He held to start the fourth and had a break point at 1-0, but a loud noise in the stadium caused a let and changed Murray's entire mindset.
The Brit was flustered about the disturbance, and Nishikori took advantage, reeling off six consecutive games to even the match. In the fifth set, Nishikori stayed calm, breaking Murray to lead 6-5 and holding to reach the semi-finals at the US Open for the second time.
“There were many up and downs, but I tried to [stay] calm. I think that's the most important thing I did today. Even though there were many up and downs I tried to stay tough,” Nishikori said.
It was just the latest time that “Clutch Kei” had brought his best tennis in a decider. To date, Nishikori is the most successful player in matches that go to a deciding set, according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone. Nishikori owns a 99-29 record in such matches, giving him a winning percentage of 77 per cent, higher than anyone in the Open Era.
Novak Djokovic had meandered through his most complicated Roland Garros path, winning five matches in six days because of a gloomy stretch in Paris. But what awaited the Serbian next in his fourth Roland Garros final was an opportunity that had eluded him all of his career: the Roland Garros title.
The pressure had never been greater. Djokovic was trying to become the third man in history to hold all four major titles at the same time (Don Budge, 1938; Rod Laver, 1962, 1969). The Belgrade native was also attempting to become the eighth man in history to complete the overall career Grand Slam.
Three times before he had come within a match of winning Roland Garros. In 2012 and 2014, Djokovic was in Rafael Nadal's path to Roland Garros glory, and in 2015, Stan Wawrinka, wearing his plaid shorts, improved to 2-0 against World No. 1s in Grand Slam title matches.
But in this year's final, Andy Murray stood in Djokovic's way and placed doubt in Djokovic's mind for the first nine games. Murray, playing in his first Roland Garros final, bullied a nervy Djokovic to the back of the court for a one-set lead.
The two were playing for the seventh time in a Grand Slam final and for the 34th time overall in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Murray had been 2-4 against Djokovic in Grand Slam finals, but the Scot started about as well as he could have hoped.
Djokovic took over in the second set, though, returning aggressively and forgetting about the nerves that had hobbled him earlier in the match. He sought to wear Murray down with a steady stream of drop shots and was striking his backhand as cleanly as he had all tournament.
Djokovic rode early breaks in the third and fourth sets. Serving at 5-2 in the fourth set, he was broken but he held two games later to solidify his place in tennis history.
“I started well in the first game and then I dropped four straight games. Nerves kicked in. I needed a little bit of time to really find the right rhythm and start to play the way I intended, which happened in the beginning of the second and practically until 5-2 in the fourth set,” Djokovic said. “It was flawless tennis. I really felt like I played on a high quality and put a lot of pressure on Andy's serves.”
On his third and final match point, Djokovic said he experienced an out-of-body moment as he tried to clinch the career Grand Slam.
“In the last point I don't even remember what happened... It's like my spirit has left my body and I was just observing my body fight the last three, four exchanges, going left to right and hoping that Andy will make a mistake,” Djokovic said. “[It was] a thrilling moment. One of the most beautiful I have had in my career.”
Seven years earlier, in 2009, the Spaniards had faced off in the semi-finals in Melbourne. Verdasco was playing in his first and, to date, only Grand Slam semi-final. Nadal was trying to reach his maiden Australian Open final, and he'd fend off his countryman after five hours and 14 minutes, then the longest match in tournament history.
Who would have guessed the two would come close to matching that feat on the same court, Rod Laver Arena, seven years later? Surely not Nadal, especially when he led Verdasco two sets to one and had won the third set in 43 minutes, the fastest set of the match so far. Verdasco's level had cooled – his winner tally had dropped from 20 in the first set to six in the third set – and it looked like Nadal would cruise to yet another win against his compatriot.
The Mallorca native owned a 14-2 record in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Verdasco. But Verdasco was leading in the “what have you done for me lately?” category, having taken two of their past three meetings, including a three-set win in Miami the year earlier.
In the fourth set, Verdasco earned a break and served to even the match at 5-4. But Nadal fought back to force a tie-break, which Verdasco won with an ace down the T. He'd hit 20 on the day.
The story of the match became the fifth set, and the story of the set was Verdasco's bullet-like forehands. Nadal gained an early break but Verdasco charged back, winning six consecutive games to end the four-hour, 41-minute match.
“I was just closing my eyes and everything went in!” Verdasco said. “In the fourth set I started serving better than the second and third. He started playing less deep and strong. I started coming inside the court, being aggressive and it went well.
On match point, Nadal served to Verdasco's forehand, and he replied with a practice-esque cut at the ball for his 90th winner of the match.
“He had a lot of success hitting every ball at full power in the fifth,” Nadal said. “I have to congratulate him.”
Maybe most telling was Verdasco's reaction once the ball whizzed past Nadal. He didn't scream to the sky or jump in celebration. He simply glanced at his box and silently pumped his fist. He had known what it was like to be on the losing end of a back-and-forth battle with Nadal, but thanks to one of his best efforts of the year, Verdasco also knew what it was like to be on the winning end.
Coming Thursday: The Best Grand Slam Matches Of 2016, Part 2
After years of Anna Wintour watching Grigor Dimitrov play tennis, the Bulgarian entered his friend's element on Monday evening. Wintour and Dimitrov, along with his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, attended The Fashion Awards at Royal Albert Hall in London.
Fashion has always been a passion of Dimitrov's, and he's long had incredible respect for Wintour, who has been the editor-in-chief at Vogue since 1988. Wintour helped put Dimitrov in the October 2014 issue of the fashion magazine. She's also supported him at the US Open every year since.
Dimitrov returned to off-season training on Tuesday. He's in Monaco and then will spend two weeks in Miami with a number of other ATP World Tour players before heading to Brisbane at the end of the year. Dimitrov finished this season No. 17 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
“After three very successful years, Boris Becker and I have jointly decided to end our cooperation. The goals we set when we started working together have been completely fulfilled, and I want to thank him for the cooperation, teamwork, dedication and commitment,” Djokovic wrote. “On the other hand, my professional plans are now directed primarily to maintain a good level of play, and also to make a good schedule and new goals for the next season. In this regard I will make all future decisions.”
Becker, a former World No. 1 and 49-time titlist, joined Djokovic's team three years ago and, with coach Marian Vajda, helped the Serbian to one of the best stretches in tennis history. During the past three years, Djokovic won 25 titles, including 14 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, two Barclays ATP World Tour Finals titles and six Grand Slam crowns.
Djokovic completed his career-long goal of winning Roland Garros this season, his 12th Grand Slam title. In doing so, he became the third man in history to hold all four major titles at the same time (Don Budge, 1938; Rod Laver, 1962, 1969) and the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam. Djokovic also claimed his record 30th Masters 1000 title in July with victory over Kei Nishikori at the Rogers Cup.Boris Becker (@TheBorisBecker) December 6, 2016
Troicki and Djordjevic, wearing a dress made by Tipsarevic’s wife Biljana, exchanged their vows on 27 November in an Orthodox wedding at the St. Aleksandar Nevski Church and continued the celebration with a reception at the Crowne Plaza Belgrade. Serbians Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic, Dusan Vemic and national team coach Bogdan Obradovic also took part in the festivities.
The 30-year-old Troicki enjoyed another strong season in 2016, finishing inside the Top 30 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. He will begin his 2017 campaign in Australia, and is the two-time defending champion at the Apia International Sydney.
Novak Djokovic was the final obstacle Andy Murray faced during his historic run to year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. But looking back on it, Kei Nishikori might have been Murray's trickiest opponent during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Coming into their round-robin match, Murray had been on a roll. He'd won 20 consecutive matches, including back-to-back-to-back-to-back titles in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna and Paris. But before Murray stopped losing this season, Nishikori had been one of the few players who had figured out how to beat him during the second half of the season. And he upset Murray on one of tennis' biggest stages: US Open quarter-finals, Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The theatrics set, the players delivered at The O2. They fought for 85 minutes in the opening set, exchanging hot shot after hot shot, especially during the 20-point tie-break. Murray saved four set points, Nishikori, three. But the Japanese would finally win the opener to make it three consecutive sets against Murray.
The Scot would answer, though. He took the second set in 53 minutes, breaking Nishikori at 4-4 before serving out the set. But when it came time to serve for the match, Murray faltered at 5-2. He'd make it up it at 5-4, though, and remain unbeaten in round-robin play. Nishikori had the level to beat the World No. 1 but couldn't sustain it.
“It never feels good after losing the match,” said Nishikori. “I know it was close. I mean, I’m definitely disappointed… I think it was great match, both of us.”
Murray, the newly-annointed World No. 1, was trying to extend his 22-match win streak, reach his first final at The O2 and complete only one of the hardest tasks in tennis: Finish No. 1 in the year-end Emirates ATP Rankings.
Only sixteen men since 1973 had ended the calendar year on top before this season, and the Scot was just two wins away from joining that elite club when he faced Raonic. The pressure was on, too, as World No. 2 Novak Djokovic had also reached the last four in London. Beat Raonic, and Murray still controlled his fate, but lose, and the top spot was Djokovic's to take.
Raonic had already faced the Serbian in London, falling in a tight 7-6(6), 7-6(5) round-robin match. Against Murray, the Canadian was hoping to win those few crucial points and assure himself a career-best year-end No. 3 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
He had already come oh so close to beating Murray in 2016. Raonic was up two sets to one in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. At The Queen's Club final, he led by a set and a break. But both times, Murray turned back Raonic's power tennis.
At The O2, Raonic was again the early starter, taking the opener 7-5. He broke early in the second set to get within four consecutive holds of his first London final. But Murray came back and the two were tied at 4-all in the third set.
What ensued next was the most unpredictable stretch of the tournament: Four consecutive service breaks. First Raonic couldn't hold to get to 5-4, then Murray couldn't hold to win the match. Then it was the Canadian's turn again, dropping his serve at 5-all. Then Murray, incredibly, was broken at 6-5, his second attempt to serve out the match. So they headed to tennis' most dramatic moment, a tie-break in the final set.
Raonic saved three match points and had his own match point at 9/8 but Murray cut a backhand volley to even the tie-break at 9/9. Two points later, he'd point to his heart in celebration.
On Wednesday in London, Murray and Kei Nishikori had set the record for the longest three-set match in season finale history, three hours, 20 minutes. But four days later, Murray and Raonic had broken the record with their three-hour and 38-minute semi-final.
Murray's 24-match win streak. His first Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title. His first year-end finish at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. In the semi-finals against Raonic, they were all a swing away from not happening in 2016.
Coming Wednesday: The best Grand Slam matches of 2016.
Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi continues his support for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, recently visiting the Children’s Ward to bring a smile to the faces of many youngsters. Qureshi has been a frequent guest at the hospital over the years and has been instrumental in fundraising for the hospital’s cancer research and development departments.
“It really does put life into perspective,” said Qureshi. “All it takes is a little bit of time to help brighten the lives of these children.”
“Patients suffering from cancer at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre don't just need physical and financially supported treatment, they also need psychological support from all of us as they struggle between life and death,” said Naila Khan, director of marketing for Shaukat Khanum. “Aisam has been a great supporter of the cause and ensures he visits us each time he returns to Pakistan. His support means a lot to us.”
Qureshi, who was recently voted Pakistan’s Most Stylish Sportsman, is aware of his responsibility to those less fortunate.
“We (ATP players) have such a wonderful life on the tour,” said Qureshi. “If my status as a professional tennis player can help make a difference for the children and families suffering from this terrible disease, then please use me as much as you want.”
At the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, it was best if you had simply forgotten about the Gael Monfils you had once known – the fun, care-free player who liked to entertain as much as he liked to win. Because the Monfils who had dashed through to the Monte-Carlo final was not that Monfils.
This Monfils had gone a perfect 10-0 in sets, racing to his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title match. He had beaten Jiri Vesely – the left-hander who had upset World No. 1 Novak Djokovic – 6-1, 6-2, and Monfils had dominated countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-1, 6-3 in the semi-finals.
So impressive had Monfils been that it looked as if he had a legit chance to beat Rafael Nadal in the Monte-Carlo final. But Monfils would have to deliver his very best performance. He had beaten Nadal only two times in 13 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, and he had lost all four of their previous clay-court matches.
Nadal wasn't invincible, though. He had won eight Monte-Carlo titles and did boast a 57-4 record at the tournament. But he also hadn't won a Masters 1000 title for almost two years, and he hadn't taken the Monte-Carlo crown since 2012. So a Nadal victory, despite his wins against Stan Wawrinka (QF) and Andy Murray (SF), wasn't an easy putaway.
The final began up in the air as well. Nadal broke early to lead 3-1 but Monfils broke back the very next game and crushed a forehand down the line to make it 3-3. The all-out forehand would become Monfils' go-to shot against Nadal, who chased down most everything else. Wary of extending the rallies too long, Monfils would set his feet and blast a forehand winner to roars from the Sunday crowd.
Nadal was too good in the first set, though, and the second set showed more back-and-forth tennis. Nadal was wearing the Frenchman down with his grinding clay-court game and by effectively using his own down-the-line forehand to keep Monfils off-balance.
But Monfils wasn't caving to the Spaniard. He was exerting every ounce of energy he had and attempting to step into the court. He'd finish the match with 28 winners and serve out the second set to force a decider.
But after two exhilarating sets, Nadal had worn Monfils down. On match point, Nadal, on a dead sprint, leaned back once more and ripped a forehand winner down the line. He then fell to his knees, a champion in Monte-Carlo for the ninth time.
“In the third, the most important moment, I decided, OK, now I have to go for the shots. Now I have to hit my forehand deeper and go more for winners. I did and that was the difference,” Nadal said. “The first two sets were unbelievably tough. So many big points. But that's a great final and an unbelievable victory for me. [I'm] so very emotional and very happy.”
His status had been questioned by some after the 2015 season, during which he failed to extend two clay-court title streaks. For the first time since 2009, Nadal didn't win Roland Garros, and for the first time since 2004, he finished a season without one of the three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court crowns.
But the Spaniard had shown signs that his play was on the rise. Weeks before Rome, Nadal had beaten Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Gael Monfils to capture the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title. A week later, Nadal had won his ninth Barcelona crown by beating two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori in the final. Two weeks of clay-court tennis, and Nadal was a perfect 10-0.
But could he overtake Djokovic on clay? Nadal had yet to grab a set off the World No. 1 during their two earlier meetings in Indian Wells and Doha, and Djokovic had won their past six FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters.
But that was the question on everyone's mind, and it would be answered during the quarter-final at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Nadal jumped on top, breaking to lead 3-2. But Djokovic, the two-time defending champion, struck back, and they were on serve at 4-4.
Serving at 5-6, Nadal looked to push the first set into a tie-break but Djokovic played relentless defence against the Spaniard. Standing feet behind the baseline, the Serbian kept retrieving until Nadal lured him to the net with a drop shot. Djokovic then flung at a forehand volley to take a one-set lead.
The second set began much like the first. Nadal again grabbed momentum with an early break. This time, he led 5-4 and had five set points but was unable to convert any of them as Djokovic, squatting low to the clay when on defence, absorbed the Spaniard's best. Djokovic needed only one break point to make it 5-5.
The four-time Rome champion then ended Nadal's upset bid with a backhand winner in the tie-break. Two hours and 25 minutes after they had started, Djokovic had answered the question on everyone's mind: Yes, he was still the best player in the world, but Nadal, on clay, was not far behind.
The Serbian would go on to play another memorable match in Rome, overcoming Nishikori in a three-hour semi-final 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5). For the year, Djokovic would finish 21-4 against the Top 10. He'd have to wait until Toronto, though, to win his 30th Masters 1000 title. Andy Murray beat Djokovic 6-3, 6-3 in the final.
It certainly seemed as if Rafael Nadal had come to the right place to reboot his 2016 season. Here he was, the top seed at the Rio Open presented by Claro, the tournament he'd won in 2014 and reached the semi-finals of in 2015. It seemed like here, on the red clay of Brazil, Nadal would play like the man who had reached the Doha final (l. to Djokovic) just a month earlier.
Three matches in, and all was looking promising as well. Nadal had reached the semi-finals without dropping a set. His next opponent was World No. 45 Pablo Cuevas, a player whom he had beaten during all three of their prior FedEx ATP Head2Head match-ups, including their 2015 Rio quarter-final. Recent history also was on Nadal's side: Only once since 2005 had he lost to a player outside the Top 30 on clay. Beat Cuevas for a fourth time and Nadal would sprint into his second final of the season.
But Cuevas saw the match-up differently. The 30 year old also had played well in Rio the previous year, taking a set off Nadal, and the Uruguayan also felt comfortable on clay. All three of his titles had come on the red dirt.
Nadal got off to the quicker start, though, taking the first-set tie-break. But he faltered as the match wore on. He struggled to handle Cuevas' power and was unable to convert on the big points. Cuevas finished with 48 winners, including 10 aces, and saved 11/13 break points faced.
The right-hander grabbed a mini-break early in the second-set tie-break to even the match. In the third set, Cuevas saved two break points in the sixth game and rode the momentum to a break in the very next game. He finished Nadal with an ace out wide and dropped to his knees with joy.
“This is my best win,” Cuevas said. “I'm so happy that I played amazing for all the match.”
A day later, he'd have another reason to smile: His fourth ATP World Tour title.
Coming Tuesday: The Best Two ATP Matches Of 2016
Opportunity is multiplied the more you are exposed to it.
In the 2015 season, Alexander Zverev played just 5,166 points on tour. That more than doubled to 11,156 this season, creating opportunities from St. Petersburg, Russia, where he won his first ATP World Tour title, to Halle and Nice, where he reached the final.
More than double the amount of points played naturally filtered down to more than double the amount of points won, rising from 2,507 in 2015 to 5,683. His season-ending position in the Emirates ATP Rankings skyrocketed from 85 in 2015 to 24 in 2016, with a season-high of 20 in October 2016.
Double the points played. Double the points won, and more than double the match time - 3,509 minutes in 2015 to 7,688 minutes in 2016. But that does not tell the whole story…
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis uncovered that Zverev actually lost more points than he won in securing his Top 100 ranking in 2015, winning just 48.5 per cent of points played. This year, storming into the Top 25 in the world, that percentage was bumped up only to 50.9 per cent.
He won just 2.4 percentage points more in 2015 than 2016 - just two and a half more points out of every hundred - to become one of the hottest players on tour.
Zverev, 19, from Hamburg, Germany, is 6,6”, and you would naturally assume the serving side of equation is his strong suite, but that’s not necessarily the case. In 2016, Zverev finished 38th best in the ATP Stats LEADERBOARD Serve Leaders category, but a much higher 18th in the Return Leaders.
Zverev won just four matches on tour in 2014, 14 in 2015, and 44 in 2016. His progression points to a 50+ wins season in 2017, and a coveted spot somewhere in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Alexander Zverev 2015-16 Improvement
In 2015, Milos Raonic lost serve only 39 times in 49 matches. Not enough.
In 2016, the 6’5” Canadian was broken 86 times in 69 matches. Now we are talking.
Raonic ended 2015 ranked 14 in the world in the Emirates ATP Rankings, and just completed the 2016 season with his career best ranking of No. 3. On the surface, getting broken more than twice as much in 2016 than 2015 seems counter-intuitive to such dramatic improvement. It’s not.
In fact, basically everything from a serving standpoint slightly declined in 2016 compared to 2015 for Raonic, but to focus only on his service games would be the same as not being able to see the forest for the trees.
What’s the point of being an exceptional server, if you can’t break enough to win? Raonic greatly improved his return game this season, evolving from a player too reliant on serving, to creating a more potent, balanced attack. He got the mix right.
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Raonic’s ascension uncovers a player who got a little worse at serving and whole lot better overall as a player, and hey presto - No. 3 in the world.
Across the board, the numbers were not as impressive in 2016 as 2015. What we must keep in mind is that Raonic went from peerless metrics to still very solid numbers compared to the rest of the tour.
Milos Raonic: 10 Focus Points Serving 2015-2016
This is the beating heart of Raonic’s improvement.
In 2015, Raonic broke 77 times in 629 return games, which equals once every 8.2 service games. In 2016, he blew the doors off those numbers, breaking 164 times in 893 return games, breaking once every 5.5 games.
Instead of putting all his eggs in the serve basket, Raonic become more complete, bolstered the return side of the equation, and increased his prize money from $1.4M in 2015 to $4.6M this season.
Milos Raonic: 10 Focus Points Returning 2015-2016
At the 2016 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Raonic held a match point against eventual champion Andy Murray in the semi-finals, losing 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9). In an ominous warning to opponents in the upcoming season, Raonic won the longer points of 9+ shots 16-14 against the Brit. Who would have thought…
In 2016, Raonic rounded out his game, improved his returns, believed in his backhand, and pressed a little less from the baseline at the start of the point. He now has all the ingredients to impose his will all over the court, and make his own legitimate run at World No. 1 in 2017.
With many high-pressure matches, pulsating moments and thrilling finishes, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori met on four occasions in 2016 and their encounters had it all. Battling in a Grand Slam quarter-final, Davis Cup five-setter, Olympic semi-final and one of the best matches of the year at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the pair provided arguably the most compelling rivalry and the drama between the lines did not disappoint.
Entering the year, Murray had dominated the rivalry, taking five of six meetings and refusing to relinquish a set in all his victories. He was ruthless in dispatching Nishikori 6-3, 6-0 in the 2015 Rogers Cup semis, but as the calendar flipped to 2016, so did the Japanese’s fortunes.
Their first meeting came in the Davis Cup first round in March. The Scot needed a win to send defending champion Great Britain into the quarter-finals and it looked to be another straight-set victory. He battled to a two-set lead, but Nishikori would find a second gear, breaking Murray in the third and fourth sets to force a decider in front of a raucous crowd in Birmingham. The home hope would secure the win in the decider, 7-5, 7-6(6), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, but Nishikori gave him all he could handle in a near-five hour thriller.
Armed with newfound belief against Murray, the Japanese would finally turn the tables at the US Open. Despite falling in straight sets in the semis of the Rio Olympics, he entered their third encounter of the year poised to stem the tide.
In a back-and-forth contest that featured 17 breaks of serve, Nishikori was ultimately the more settled player during the match's tightest moments. He took the three-hour and 57-minute contest 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, upsetting Murray to reach his second Grand Slam semi-final and first since the 2014 US Open.
“I saw some opportunities to come in today so I tried to be aggressive,” said Nishikori. “I saw that's what I had to do, especially against Andy. He has great defense. I don't know why I served and volleyed a lot today... but it was working. I think it was a great mix, serving and volleying and coming to the net."
At no point was Nishikori more clutch than deep in the fifth set. With Murray serving at 5-all in the decider, Nishikori attacked a second serve and approached the net, lunging at Murray's passing shot and connecting on a forehand volley that dropped in for an uncontested winner. He served it out a game later, claiming his fourth of five Top 10 wins in 2016.
Following two five-set battles, Nishikori entered the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals full of confidence against Murray. They would meet in the round-robin stage and with Murray’s year-end No. 1 quest hanging in the balance, an instant classic would ensue. The competitors produced the then-longest match in tournament history at three hours and 21 minutes, before Murray and Milos Raonic broke the record days later.
Nishikori was clutch in the opening tie-break and Murray was left to rue missed opportunities with the set on the line. The Japanese would take it 11-9 after 85 minutes, but the Scot regrouped immediately to secure a break to 30 to open the second set and eventually drew level to force a decider. Each game in the deciding set was competitive, but it was Murray who found a way to break Nishikori in the third and fifth games. He remained in control to prevail 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4, extending his winning streak to 21 straight matches and exacting revenge after the US Open defeat.
"Until this year, we hadn't really played many marathons," Murray said. "It just turned out that this year we played three extremely long matches. The ones in the Davis Cup and the US Open were very tough, long five-setters. But we've played each other 10 or 11 times. It's only really been this year that I remember that we played really, really long matches."
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (Murray Leads 8-2)
Murray vs. Nishikori: 2016 MeetingsEvent Surface Round
The full-size trophy, carefully crafted from several kilos of chocolate, took two full days to build and was presented to the 2016 US Open champion at a pre-tournament press conference Wednesday in Geneva. The World No. 4 also won his first title on home soil this past May in Geneva and will return to the ATP World Tour 250 tournament in 2017 to defend his crown.
“This is a lovely idea from the tournament,” said Wawrinka. “The trophy looks great, what a nice surprise! It’s good that I already started working on my fitness with Pierre Paganini.”
The 31-year-old Swiss, who defeated Novak Djokovic at the US Open to claim his third Grand Slam title, asked how long he could keep the chocolate trophy and was told it would be edible for about a week. The tournament wrapped and delivered the trophy to Wawrinka following the presentation to ensure it would arrive intact.
Tickets for the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open will be on sale from 8 December.
Juan Martin del Potro was a man on a mission in 2016. The Comeback Player of the Year in the 2016 ATP World Tour Awards Presented by Moët & Chandon, del Potro turned in multiple watershed moments of magic in his return to action from wrist surgery. Indelible images of the emotional Argentine with tears of joy came early and often.
After reaching the semi-finals in his debut in Delray Beach, he would streak to the third round at Wimbledon with an upset of Stan Wawrinka, claim the silver medal at the Rio Olympics behind stunning wins over Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, reach the quarter-finals at the US Open with a victory over Dominic Thiem, notch his first ATP World Tour title in nearly three years at the If Stockholm Open and cap it off with a thrilling win over Marin Cilic to guide Argentina to its first Davis Cup crown.
The common theme? Inspired performances against the Top 10.
The spark immediately returned for the Argentine, rekindling old rivalries with a pair of pulsating match-ups against both Murray and Wawrinka. Murray led the FedEx ATP Head2Head 5-2 entering the season, but they hadn’t faced off for more than three years. Two of the more consistent performers throughout the season, the Scot and the Argentine battled for the gold medal at the Rio Olympics, followed by a five-set, five-hour affair in the Davis Cup semis.
With both players relying on their final reserves, Murray persevered past a dogged del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in more than four hours to become the first man to win back-to-back singles gold medals at the Olympics. Coming into the match, del Potro had spent 11 hours and 36 minutes on court; Murray, eight hours, 10 minutes. It was a pure war of attrition. Murray saw his win streak extend to 18 straight, while del Potro capped a remarkable week that featured wins over Djokovic and Nadal en route to the silver medal.
“I know tonight's one of the hardest matches that I've had to play for a big, big title,” Murray said. “Emotionally it was tough... Physically, it was hard. There were so many ups and downs in the match. It was one of the toughest matches that I've played to win a big event.”
Murray's defence looked to neutralise del Potro’s firepower once again, as he took a two-sets-to-one lead in the Davis Cup semi-finals a month later. But this time the Argentine powered across the finish line with a furious finish. He prevailed 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 in five hours and seven minutes to open the tie against Great Britain. On his third break chance of the fifth set, del Potro chased down an apparent winning volley from Murray to strike a running forehand winner and secure the decisive advantage.
"It’s amazing. Amazing. I really enjoyed the match," del Potro said. "He is a ridiculous player, a fighter, a great champion. I was trying to find a way. I played good forehands and good serves. That was the key."
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (Murray Leads 6-3)
Del Potro vs. Murray: 2016 MeetingsEvent Surface Round
Arguably the greatest Grand Slam rivalry of the year was between del Potro and Wawrinka, with the Argentine’s forehand firepower clashing with the Swiss’ backhand prowess. Del Potro led the FedEx ATP Head2Head 3-2 entering the season and their first meeting in four years took place in the second round at Wimbledon. With the roof closed on Centre Court, the featured match of the first week did not disappoint.
In just his second match at a major since the 2014 Australian Open, del Potro stormed back from a set down, advancing with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over the fourth seed.
“As we all say, it's great for tennis to see him back. He's a great guy, a really good player, a big champion,” Wawrinka said. “He’s beaten some good guys. Today he was playing really well. I think he was serving really well and his forehand is there."
Wawrinka would avenge the defeat at the US Open, needing four sets to advance through their quarter-final encounter, en route to lifting the trophy. He prevailed 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 over the 2009 champion under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The match ended at 1:20 a.m. local time, with the Swiss firing 53 winners, including 10 aces.
"It was important to stay there, to stay tough," said Wawrinka. "I knew before the match that against del Potro it's a tough challenge. He's playing well. He's strong mentally. He doesn't give you much. It's going to be painful physically and mentally to stay there, so I had to adapt my game a little bit. It's not a player that I can really always play the way I want to against, because he's so aggressive"
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (del Potro Leads 4-3)
Del Potro vs. Wawrinka: 2016 MeetingsEvent Surface Round
Raonic first partnered with the former World No. 1 in January, and he went on to experience his best season on the ATP World Tour. The 25 year old kicked off the year by winning his eighth ATP World Tour title in Brisbane (d. Federer). Raonic proceeded to reach the Australian Open semi-finals, the BNP Paribas Open final, The Queen's Club final and his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon (l. to Murray).
Raonic also earned a career-high 52 wins in 2016 and finished at a career-best year-end No. 3 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, up 11 spots from his 2015 year-end ranking of No. 14.
“Thank you to Carlos Moya for helping me tremendously this year, alongside my team, to get the best out of me. Under Carlos' direction and tutelage I have played my best yet to date,” Raonic posted on Instagram. “We will no longer be continuing our coaching relationship but remain close friends. I wish him all the best.”
Raonic also works with Riccardo Piatti on a full-time basis. The Canadian had also brought on John McEnroe for a stretch during the grass-court and U.S. hard-court swings. Before working with Moya, Raonic had worked with Croatian Ivan Ljubcic for more than two years.